A plausible prediction of Nats' 2016 lineup

A plausible prediction of Nats' 2016 lineup
December 20, 2012, 7:45 am
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I wrote yesterday about the state of the Nationals' farm system, tied in with Baseball America's release of the organization's Top 10 Prospects list. One of the always-interesting features of that annual piece is the magazine's predicted lineup for the club three years down the road.

It's often a fruitless exercise, because so much can change over the course of three years and the BA writers don't account for any potential trades or free agent signings. But I was particularly intrigued by their predicted 2016 lineup for the Nationals:

C Wilson Ramos
1B Ryan Zimmerman
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond
3B Anthony Rendon
LF Brian Goodwin
CF Denard Span
RF Bryce Harper
SP Stephen Strasburg
SP Lucas Giolito
SP Gio Gonzalez
SP Jordan Zimmermann
SP Ross Detwiler
CL Drew Storen

That's actually not all that far-fetched a lineup and rotation, though it does make a couple of assumptions...

-- Desmond, Span, Zimmermann and Detwiler would have to sign contract extensions, because each is currently eligible to become a free agent after the 2015 season.

-- The Nationals would have to actually make the decision to move Zimmerman to first base and open third base for Rendon, something which has been vaguely discussed before but is far from a guaranteed switch.

-- Where's Jayson Werth? He'll obviously still be under contract in 2016, not to mention making a boatload of money. Would the Nats really have a $21 million bench player?

-- Giolito would have to speed through the Nationals' farm system after missing most of 2013 following Tommy John surgery. That would give the top pitching prospect only two full seasons in the minors before he was called up and inserted as the No. 2 starter behind Strasburg and ahead of Gonzalez, Zimmermann and Detwiler. Within the realm of possibility? Yes. But plausible? Probably not.

Details aside, the larger point here is that the majority of those players listed are likely to still be part of the roster three years down the road. That underscores just how young the Nationals currently are and how Mike Rizzo has assembled a roster that is designed to win not only right now but also well into the future.

How many other franchises can claim to have a World Series-caliber roster assembled for the next four years? That's an incredibly short list.

Now, you may be asking how accurate these future projected lineups are. As pointed out, Baseball America doesn't ever project free agent signings or trades, and we all know there isn't a GM in the sport who won't sign a free agent or make a trade at some point in the next three years.

Plus, you never know which players will blossom into everyday big leaguers and which ones won't. For evidence of that, we need only look back at Baseball America's projected 2013 lineup for the Nationals ... which was made prior to the 2010 season:

C Derek Norris
1B Chris Marrero
2B Danny Espinosa
SS Ian Desmond
3B Ryan Zimmerman
LF Josh Willingham
CF Nyjer Morgan
RF Adam Dunn
SP Stephen Strasburg
SP Jordan Zimmermann
SP Ross Detwiler
SP John Lannan
SP Collin Balester
CL Drew Storen
*Projection made on 11/11/09

Hmm, would you prefer this projected lineup or the one we'll actually see on Opening Day? Chris Marrero or Adam LaRoche/Michael Morse at first base? Nyjer Morgan or Denard Span in center field? Adam Dunn or Bryce Harper in right field? Collin Balester or Dan Haren as No. 5 starter?

In the end, long-term projections are fun. But reality has a way of intruding on those best-laid plans.